The Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
1 1/8 Miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares, 3-year-olds and up | Churchill Downs, Race 9 | Saturday, Nov. 3, 4:16 PM (EDT)
Most Likely Winner: Monomoy Girl (#11)
This Breeders’ Cup Distaff features a battle between the last two Kentucky Oaks winners. What makes his matchup so intriguing is the stark contrast between the 2018 campaigns of these two star fillies. Whereas Monomoy Girl has been sure and steady throughout the season, Abel Tasman has been anything but – alternating between superb and abysmal. They’re the two main players, but there is additional depth to this race. Monomoy Girl’s archrival Midnight Bisou is back for another go at her, and improving fillies Wow Cat and Blue Prize are fresh off Grade 1 scores.
One of the distinctive features of this Distaff is the glaring lack of early speed. The Pace Projector is predicting that Vale Dori (#8) will hold a slim advantage over Monomoy Girl (#11) in the early going, but it’s not as if either of these fillies are speed-crazy types. Furthermore, note the position of Abel Tasman (#2), who is shown to be stalking just in behind them. Her placement in the early portion of the race should reveal a lot about her prospects, since she tends to drag Mike Smith into a forward position when she’s ready to run one of her top races.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, CHAMPAGNE PROBLEMS (12-1): She encountered some minor trouble in the stretch of the Spinster, but the only reason she finished relatively close at the end was because Blue Prize drifted out so dramatically in the lane. This filly is as honest as they come, but I just don’t get the sense that she possesses the raw ability to compete against a field of this quality. Pass.
#2, ABEL TASMAN (7-2): “What do you do with Abel Tasman?” is the question that every handicapper seems to be asking this week. And there really isn’t a good answer. Trainers love to offer up excuses for poor performances, but Bob Baffert doesn’t seem to have a clue as to why she ran so poorly last time. The general consensus seems to be that she reacted badly to a gut-wrenching duel with the unfortunately sidelined Elate in the Personal Ensign, in which she earned a career-best 133 TimeformUS Speed Figure. I would be more willing to accept that explanation if Abel Tasman had lost by a length next time out, but she showed absolutely no interest in competing in her following start. Yet, before we go ahead and toss her, it’s important to remember that this is not the first time we’ve been forced to ask this very question about Abel Tasman. She was alarmingly dull in the La Troienne earlier this year – albeit not to the same extent as in the Zenyatta – and she somehow rebounded with a superb effort to take the Ogden Phipps just 5 weeks later.
Abel Tasman is a quirky filly. She doesn’t have a set running style, so Mike Smith has grown accustomed to getting out of her way, and just letting her run the race she wants to run. Usually, you can tell pretty early what you’re going to get from her. When she’s sitting on a big effort, she tends to drag Mike Smith up to contest the pace within the first 3 furlongs. Notably, that eagerness did not surface in the La Troienne or the Zenyatta. She appears to be training better into this race, but it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from the workouts with a horse like this. I don’t feel confident enough to make her my top selection, but I also have too much respect for her talent to completely leave her out. The ultimate wild card.
#3, LA FORCE (20-1): Her career trajectory changed pretty dramatically when she was switched to dirt late last year, and she’s developed into a Grade 1-quality performer on that surface this season. She’s gotten pretty close to some nice fillies in top races out West, but she’s still lacking a stakes win of any kind on her résumé. She has earned some competitive speed figure, but a moderate early pace will do her no favors. Using on deep trifecta tickets.
#4, MOPOTISM (30-1): She really hasn’t built upon her 3-year-old form this season, and it’s fair to question if she even belongs in Grade 1 company anymore. Pass.
#5, WONDER GADOT (15-1): She briefly was regarded as a potential challenger to Monomoy Girl for division honors over the summer following two decisive wins over males in Canada. However, everything came unraveled in the Travers, and she failed to rebound when back in against some familiar rivals in the Cotillion. It’s fair to question if a long, taxing campaign has finally started to take its toll. She appears to be working swiftly into this race, but she’s always been a willing participant in her morning drills. The one thing that she does have going for her is her ample early speed, since this seems like a race in which you want to have forward position. Unfortunately, I just don’t see the evidence that suggests she’s about to turn things around. Using underneath.
#6, VERVE’S TALE (30-1): She picked up some valuable black type with that third place finish in the Grade 1 Beldame, and I suppose that gives her connections an excuse to shoot for the stars one last time. She’s an honest filly who routinely shows up when she’s placed appropriately. That is certainly not the case this time. Pass.
#7, MIDNIGHT BISOU (6-1): It didn’t quite play out the way her supporters would have hoped, but she finally got the better of Monomoy Girl in the Cotillion. Seemingly every disqualification is a source of controversy these days, but there’s little doubt that Midnight Bisou was significantly hampered in the stretch as Monomoy Girl drifted all over the track. Midnight Bisou is a very talented filly in her own right and she got a much better trip than Monomoy Girl that day, so it’s not inconceivable that she would have gone by with a clear run through stretch. In addition to her trip, I also believe the slight cutback in distance worked to her advantage. Anything beyond 1 1/16 miles has been a bit of a struggle for her this year, which became especially clear when she struggled home as a disappointing third in the Alabama. Now she has to negotiate an extra half-furlong while attempting to overcome a pace situation that may favor her archrival. Another win is not out of the question, but I think there are others who are just as likely to upset, and would do so at more enticing prices. A notch or two below the favorite.
#8, VALE DORI (12-1): There was a time when this mare would have been considered one of the favorites in a race like this. She was utterly dominant through the early portion of 2017, reeling off 6 consecutive victories in Southern California. When champion filly Stellar Wind returned that summer, Vale Dori gave her all that she could handle in a pair of Grade 1 contests, falling just a neck short in both races. Something clearly went awry following that second battle with Stellar Wind, since she didn’t make it back to the races for over 9 months and she’s been a shadow of her former self ever since. However, she did show some of that old spark when Baffert added blinkers in the Zenyatta last time. Obviously, her task was made much easier once Abel Tasman failed to show up, but it was nevertheless encouraging to see her turn the tables on La Force, who had beaten her decisively earlier in the year. This might seem like a tall order given her generally lackluster body of work this year, but I think there are reasons to be optimistic about her chances. As I mentioned above, there is not much speed in this field, and she is one of only a few who seems quite comfortable carving out the early pace. She’s been known to get brave when she sticks her nose in front, and she could be rounding back into form at just the right time. An upset possibility.
#9, WOW CAT (8-1): I have mixed feelings about this filly. Many have been justifiably disappointed by her U.S. campaign, but I do think she has progressed nicely since arriving in this country. Some of the same fillies that had given her trouble in the Shuvee were no match for her last time out in the Beldame. So has she improved enough to lodge a serious challenge against the likes of Monomoy Girl and Abel Tasman? My sense is that she’s not quite there yet, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see her take yet another step forward. She clearly wants to run all day so nine furlongs around two turns is right up her alley. A trifecta player.
#10, BLUE PRIZE (6-1): The Spinster, like the Beldame, was not a particularly strong Grade 1 affair. The assignment also became much easier once two of the favored runners in that race – 3-year-olds Talk Veuve to Me and Eskimo Kisses – failed to show up with competitive efforts. Blue Prize, to her credit, put forth her typical solid effort, which was more than good enough to secure the victory despite the fact that she drifted out badly under a left-hand whip. It’s always somewhat disconcerting to see a horse lose focus in that manner, especially heading into such an important race. However, that was Joe Bravo’s first ride on her, and he’s likely planning to make some adjustments this time. In terms of her overall ability, I think she’s in the same boat as Wow Cat. They’re both in the best form of their respective careers, but they would need the top two to falter in order to come out on top. Another exotics possibility.
#11, MONOMOY GIRL (2-1): As a contrarian who is loath to pick favorites – especially those that win as often as Monomoy Girl does – I bent over backwards to come up with reasons to bet against this filly in almost every one of her starts this year. Time and again I had convinced myself that there remained some doubt as to her dominance, some unexposed flaw that would result in her defeat.
Well, no more. I’m ready to fly the white flag. Monomoy Girl is the real deal. Ironically, it took her defeat – albeit on a technicality – to convince me. Her performance in the Cotillion may have been the finest effort of an already impressive campaign. The rail was not where you wanted to be racing on that day at Parx, as many races on the card favored horses making outside moves. Monomoy Girl unfortunately drew an inside post position and Florent Geroux was forced to race along that inside path for the first 6 furlongs of the Cotillion. Given that taxing trip, she had every right to surrender to Midnight Bisou in the lane, and she simply refused to yield. Perhaps she would have lost by a neck had she kept a straight path, but that minor detail is hardly of great importance. She finally overcame some real adversity and passed the test with flying colors. Furthermore, the race came up fast. The 124 TimeformUS Speed Figure that she was assigned is right in line with her best numbers, and it marks her fourth straight figure of 120 or higher. Many of the older females in this Distaff have yet to reach that level.
Some of Monomoy Girl’s supporters might groan about the outside post position for this race, but I actually think it’s perfect for her. She should be able to cross over into a stalking position just outside Vale Dori without exerting too much energy, and it should be difficult to run her down given that kind of trip. The clear selection.